It was the final car I drove when I spent an afternoon at the Vauxhall Heritage Centre in Luton.
If you had asked me to pick a favourite car before I went, it would be fair to say that the Cavalier wouldn’t have featured highly on the list. But against all the odds, it was the MK2 Cavalier that stole my heart. After the retro fun of the Chevette and the raw brilliance of the Astra GTE, this seemed unlikely. But then, this is PetrolBlog.
Perhaps it’s the fact that in 2.0 CD spec, this particular Cavalier would have been the envy of the Happy Eater car park. The CD badge was a sign that its owner was a man on the up. His name was Terry and he was a sales god. Having consistently outsold Norman and Frank, he had been rewarded with a Cavalier 2.0 CD. Norman and Frank could only look on with wonder from the wheel of their 1.6 GL.
Based on my brief encounter with the Cavalier, Terry had a lot to be thankful for. Not for him the trauma and ignominy associated with poverty-spec motoring. His headlights were kept clean by little wipers that made Terry feel like he was at the helm of a large German or Swedish luxury saloon. His front fog lights gave the impression that he was on a special stage on the RAC Rally and he’d use them as he trundled up the middle lane of the M1 motorway.
All the while his bottom would be cosseted by one of the most comfortable driver’s seats from the 1980s, thus ensuring that Terry would arrive for a sales meeting in Leeds relaxed and ready to sell. Whilst life as a top salesman was good, Terry had his eye on a management job and the Carlton CD that went with it. And more sales took Terry further up that ladder and ever closer to the Carlton.
At the weekend, in an effort to impress the neighbours, Terry would lovingly wash and wax his Cavalier, making sure the alloys were suitably sparkling. Ever since Ken across the road had arrived home in ‘der neue’ Audi 90, Terry had to work hard so much harder. Vorsprung durch green with envy.
Of course, Terry was fortunate enough to be given a car as part of his job, meaning he didn’t pay the £12,000 price tag. But he revelled in the fact that his car was worth considerably more than his neighbours ageing Ford Escort. He also didn’t mind that the automatic ‘box made the 2.0-litre Cavalier feel a tiny bit sluggish. In relaxed mode, the Cavalier was a supremely comfortable tourer. He’d often see mpg figures in the low 30s too.
Fast forward the best part of three decades and Terry has long since retired and is happily seeing out his days in a bungalow in Walton on the Naze. He fondly remembers his old Cavalier and the 90,000 miles he did on the motorways and A-roads of Britain. Today he drives a Vauxhall Agila. Once a Griffin man, always a Griffin man.
It’s funny, I’ve never really given the Vauxhall Cavalier much attention. I was too young for the MK1 to really register and the MK2 was so ubiquitous and common, I must have given up looking at it. The MK3 has never held any appeal whatsoever. So it was rather enlightening to spend half an hour in the company of such a well maintained and immaculate MK2 Cavalier.
You need to remember that in 1987 the MK2 really was in the twilight of its existence. Its chief rival, the Ford Sierra was fresh from a facelift and trouncing the Cavalier in the sales chart. Its days as one of Britain’s biggest selling cars were over. And yet it still sold over three quarters of a million cars in its time.
It was very much the Cavalier of the 1980s and would be replaced by the MK3 within a year or two. At the time, Car magazine, although lavishing praise on the Cavalier for its reliability and strong motorway manners had already written it off as ‘past it now’. Driving one today, I find that hard to believe. Did the MK3 actually move the Cavalier on? Is hindsight a wonderful thing – a real case of not knowing what you’ve got until it’s gone?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not proclaiming the MK2 Cavalier to be a bastion of premium quality motoring. But in CD spec at least, it has aged wonderfully. The timeless colour combined with the chrome detailing, tasteful alloys and front fogs manage to make the Cavalier seem more contemporary than its age would suggest. What’s more, it has an overwhelming smell of an ‘80s minicab. If only PetrolBlog was delivered in smell-o-vision as it’s hard to describe. It’s not a particularly nasty smell but it has the feel of an air freshener that has been used to mask the stench of something more sinister. In an instant it takes you back to the 1980s. That’s magic, as Paul Daniels may have said.
It’s not particularly quick either, with the 3-speed automatic transmission doing its best to dilute what little power is on offer. But for ‘one hand on the wheel, one elbow on the window’ cruising, it’s just about perfect. That is, once you get past the rather loud engine and excessive road noise. But for a premium-spec blue collar hatchback, the Cavalier is wonderfully authentic.
Time is running out for the MK2 Cavalier. Not only was it one of the most stolen cars of the ‘80s and ‘90s, but many suffered from catastrophic tin worm that made them uneconomical to keep going. A car that Bangernomics never really got a chance to embrace. Go straight to scrap, do not pass go and do not collect loving owner on your way through. Given my brief drive with the former hero of suburbia, this is a great shame.
I’ll leave you with the ‘classic’ television ad from the 1980s. It stars Martin Shaw lying through his teeth and taking the long way home. Martin Shaw a liar? Well I guess these were the days before Judge John Deed.